UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has made significant changes to his camp ahead of an upcoming title defense against longtime teammate Gilbert Burns at UFC 251 on July 11.
In anticipation of UFC 251 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, Usman (16-1) has moved his camp to Denver, under head coach Trevor Wittman. The defending champion told ESPN his corner will consist of Wittman -- who trains UFC lightweight Justin Gaethje and strawweight Rose Namajunas -- Jorge Santiago, his brother Mohammed and possibly Gaethje.
Although Usman has worked with various coaches over the years to get different looks, this will be the first time in his eight-year professional career he's actually held camp outside of Florida. He was a member of the now-defunct Blackzilians team in Boca Raton, Florida, going back to 2012, and has trained under striking coach Henri Hooft the majority of his career. Usman said he left the team on very good terms.
"Florida was the base for a long time, but you grow from there," Usman told ESPN. "We always had a ton of guys, some of the best training partners out there and some great coaches.
"But I wanted a little more specific attention at this point in my career -- someone to be able to say, 'You're going to come in at this time and work on this particular skill.' It's very tough to do that when there are 40 to 50 guys in the room with you who also need to get attention."
Burns (19-3) has remained with the Sanford MMA team in Florida. Prior to Usman's recent departure, the two were sparring partners for years. Usman has even been in Burns' corner in multiple fights.
Burns told ESPN his camp will be virtually the same, despite Usman's absence -- although Hooft has removed himself from the bout entirely.
"Our main coach, Henri Hooft, he stepped out," Burns told ESPN's Phil Murphy. "He said, 'I don't want to go either way. I don't want to pick a side. You guys train. I'll be here at the gym. If you want to train here, we can train. But I'm not going to the fight.'
"For me, it doesn't change too much. It's just a little weird to fight Kamaru. I really like the guy a lot. We've trained together since 2012 or 2013, so we've put a lot of time together."
When asked if Usman believes he's taking a risk by changing camps to face an opponent and team who know him so well, the champion did not seem concerned.
"I think eventually I would have changed things up anyway," Usman said. "We had a lot of welterweights at that gym. At some point, when you're training with these guys on a daily basis and you're the champion of the world, these guys know you in and out and if they get the better of you one day, they're licking their chops thinking it's their time. A little separation from that is good. It keeps that element of surprise, because these guys feel like they know you.
"One thing I firmly believe is that it's my work. You can be with a great coach, but if you're not putting the effort in, that coach isn't going to help you win. That coach isn't going to get in and fight for you. I know I put the work in."